Canada minister dubs Saskatchewan leader 'irresponsible' on carbon tax

Canada's Minister of Energy and Natural Resources Wilkinson speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -A vow by the energy-producing province of Saskatchewan not to collect a federal carbon tax on some homes is irresponsible, Canada's energy minister said on Thursday in comments that added to a mounting dispute between Ottawa and the provinces.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, under pressure over environmental policies that critics say are driving up the price of energy, last week said the government would suspend the carbon tax on home heating oil in rural areas for three years.

Although Trudeau said there would be no other exemptions, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the move was unfair and threatened to stop collecting the tax on homes heated with natural gas.

"If the government of Saskatchewan wants to create that kind of a barrier, then we will have to figure out how best to respond," Energy and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson said in an interview.

"I don't think it's a reasonable thing for any provincial premier to be saying ... they're going to flout the laws of land ... that's just an irresponsible position to take."

Saskatchewan and the neighboring oil-rich province of Alberta say Trudeau's environmental policies will cripple their energy industries.

Moe reiterated on Thursday that the provincial natural gas supplier would "absolutely not" be collecting the tax starting next year.

Polls show that if an election were held now, Trudeau's Liberals would lose to the opposition Conservatives, who vow to "axe" the carbon tax.

Canada, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, aims to cut emissions 40% to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. A rising carbon price that will hit C$170 a tonne by 2030, from C$65 a tonne currently, is part of their plan.

(Additional reporting by Nia Williams and David Ljunggren; Editing by Josie Kao and Jonathan Oatis)